by Michele Marques, Manager, Information Design and Development (IDD)
Time management advice often includes tips for spending less time in email. If you get lots of email, like I do, it's easy to spend too much time responding to email.
I agree that it's necessary to limit the amount of time spent in email. Some people only check email at certain times of the day. I am more flexible about checking email - but I limit my time and don't let myself get bogged down in email.
I have seen advice to keep my inbox clean. I understand the logic - you don't want to keep reading the same email over and over. However, I find that if I spend time filing all my email into folders (and responding immediately to quick emails), I am:
My approach won't work for everyone. I admit that I use an Outlook feature that is present only in their desktop client. However, if you use another email system, you might be able to find an equivalent approach that works for you.
Image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I triage email, I don't reply
When I triage email, I quickly scan through email subject lines. First, I open calendar invites, so that my schedule is up-to-date. I do accept (or decline) invites, as I just have to press a button. Then, I open email messages that I might have to deal with (read for information, reply, or take action).
At this point, I don't reply to emails that take more than one or two words. If I have to stop to think about my response, it might take too long to triage emails.
I set a task for every email that requires an action or reply
I use the "Followup" feature in Outlook. For anything that requires a reply (without action) or that must be dealt with soon, I flag it for "Today." If an action is required, I might flag the followup for a future date. Anything that I flag for followup appear in my task list, which I display next to my Inbox. I have set up color-coded categories to indicate the priority and time-sensitivity. I used to apply both categories to all items, but I now only apply the categories to the most important and/or time-sensitive items. These color codes help me figure out what to work on next in my task list - in case I cannot get to everything in the day.
If an action will take some time, I'll usually put the time on my calendar. But, I might only schedule that time when working through my task list.
By taking this approach, I can limit the amount of time triaging email. I don't worry about keeping a clean inbox, because every email that I plan to act on has a flag. If I won't have enough time to triage all my email (for example, after vacation), I might open a smaller percentage of emails. I might not open all the email messages, but I'm also not afraid that I cleaned out a message that I should have dealt with. There is the option to later come back to messages.
In a big email discussion, I only flag the specific message or message to which I want to reply - and I don't delete email messages to which I might want to come back. This means that my Inbox is a repository of messages of temporary value.
I file emails that I need to keep
If I need to keep an email, I file it in the appropriate folder. If I won't need to keep an email after I deal with it, I leave it in my Inbox.
I clean out my completed task list
At the end of the week, I open my completed task list. Then, I delete all tasks that are in either my Inbox or my Tasks folder. I leave messages that are stored in specific folders.
How do you manage your email?
The postings in this blog are my own and don't necessarily represent BMC's opinion or position.